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Talis Aspire

900 reading lists and encouraging academic engagement: Q&A with The University of Essex Library

Natalie Naik

Following our webinar with The University of Essex on the 17th of November, we hosted a Q&A session to find out more about their experience with Talis Aspire Reading Lists. Find out what Clare French, Sub-Librarian and Alex O’Neill, Customer Support Services Team Leader did to overcome challenges and improve student experience: 


Question 1: How involved do you expect academics to be? Do you expect them to create and maintain the lists, such as adding and removing items?

Clare: If they ask us to roll the list over at the end of the year, we would expect them to do the editing on it. However, not everyone does take their lists over each year – which means some administrators edit the lists and the library will probably do some work on them as well.


Question 2: Did you receive any additional resource or funding for the project?

Alex: No, we just had the two front runners who were University students and the library staff. It was a bit of a challenge but as the library staff were changing the way they worked anyway it was a good way to get used to the software.

Laura at Talis: All Universities do seem to approach it differently. Some unis have a coordinator and they only deal with reading lists, others build it into somebody’s current role.


Question 3: How many items do you have in the system current and what’s the average size of your lists?

Clare: Around 920 lists, some very short and some extremely long!

Alex: I know it’s a lot! What’s interesting is the vast difference between size of lists. Some had to be split into 2 as they wouldn’t fit into 1, so around 800 on the list. Yet there are some departments only have a handful, between 5-10 items on each. There are probably 70,000 items in total.


Question 4: What do you do if some academics just refuse to engage with the system, and do students on that course therefore just miss out?

Clare: No one really has refused to engage, yet we know it’s likely that some won’t take the list over and keep them up. Next year we are considering doing the roll over in ‘off mode’, that will force the academics to do something to them in order to make them live. A block will also appear in all of the Moodle courses, which students will see, so if there is no list, perhaps a bit of student pressure will help.

Alex: It has certainly worked with other work we’ve done with Moodle before, that students have created groups to challenge their department on why they aren’t using a particular tool. We hope that in the same way we are approaching this – that there is no high level decree that everyone has to use it – we are just letting students and everyone know it’s there and send out encouraging messages and hope that this prompts academics to use it.

Laura at Talis: I would back that up that when students see what they are missing out on they will put the pressure on the academics and start demanding they have lists for all modules, not just some of them. This is something we are seeing happen in other universities, the students really help drive that forward. They don’t want to miss out.

Alex: We’ve also had the experience that some departments decide to insist across the board that their academics are using a particular tool. There were a couple of departments that were keen on Talis and they heavily encouraged all of their staff to use Talis – it really helps when senior member of the department realises the benefits and encourages everyone to use the tool.


Question 5: Apart from rolling over lists as drafts, as you said you were considering, how else might you ensure that academics redo their lists every year?

Clare: As well as doing that, we will contact the the academics to tell them that’s what is happening. If they don’t appear to be making a change we can check that looking at the reports and chase that up before the term and encourage them to at least press the button to confirm that it is correct for the year.

Laura: Yes at least this way it will ensure lists stay up to date, rather than looking back in 5 years time and realising your lists are outdated!


Question 6: When you mention different requirements for different departments, what kind of varying requirements do you need to address?

Alex: There are 2 sides. First, what they thought was most beneficial from system. So, what would sell it to staff, that it was on the web, or that it was updatable throughout year and integrated with existing tools, or that they could engage with students through lists. Our history department for example like to see who is using the lists. The other side is to build lists and transfer them over – some departments were happy with just access, whereas others preferred to hand them all over in a bulk session.


Question 7: What problems did you have with your old system that you hoped would be solved by Talis?

Clare: Talis has worked in improving academics’ engagement. One of the problems we had was with updating the lists every year, because we were having to look at the new lists that academics gave us, work out what was different and how to make those changes. So we are hoping that the academics are engaging with the lists and editing them, so that process is all done. One of the things we really wanted to do was to see how many lists a particular item was on – that’s really useful. We like that everything is consistent, you can create one bookmark and it appears the same across all lists – rather than having people type different things.

Alex: It was interesting that the student front runners working on lists said they had to hunt for hours at times to find one item and sometimes still couldn’t find it, therefore how could any student without experience or training that they had, find that item? So we hope this will make lists more easily accessible for students


Question 8: Is it your policy to attempt to purchase every item on a list or do you put a limit on longer lists?

Clare: We always aimed to buy everything, but are sometimes limited by not being able to get hold of it, but no at the moment, we don’t place restrictions on that. We do sometimes go back to the academic and let them know if something is very expensive and obscure, but otherwise we aim to get everything. Obviously we aim to get the required or essential items in greater numbers.


Do you have any questions for the Talis team? Please let us know in the comments below.

Please join us for our webinar with The University of East Anglia on the 2nd December, where you can ask Ed Chamberlain, Head of Resources your questions about their experience with reading lists. Register here.

If you’d like the view a recording of the webinar from the University of Essex, click here.

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